Journeys anywhere in Nepal take an age. The one to Pokhara takes in winding mountainous roads and take around 7 to 8 hours. Wang in a landslide and it takes 10, make it 38 degrees and then make sure the air con on the supposed ‘air con’ bus isn’t working and it feels more like 16 hours. Suffice to say when we pulled into Pokhara the three of us were relieved. Finding a hotel isn’t hard and the place we went to offered us 24 hour hot water, Satellite TV and free wifi for 600NRS per night (£4.20) Absolute bargain.
Having done all the usual tourist things last year I wanted to do something different for the one day we had. We started by taking a simple walk along the lake, it is the most serene of places. Buffalo roam wild, kids sit with make shift fishing rods trying to catch a mini fish and teens play football on the grass. One of the worlds highest peaks is reflected in the lake and there is absolute silence. Complete and utter serenity on a scale that reminds you of just how lucky you are and just how beautiful the world is.
It was our last day in Nepal and last relaxing day before we head off on an epic journey into India and so it had to be something memorable. And that it was. After last years calamity and almost wiping the three of us out we decided against hiring a motorbike and resorted back to a scooter. A few dollars later and we were bezzing off up some road in the lake side retreat of Pokhara. On the doorstep of the Annurpurna range (Himalayas) it is a place where dreams are made, destroyed and lived.
Now, I am king of getting lost on a scooter, seriously. It would take some hardcore professional to come anywhere near me in terms of the art of getting lost. In fact when I get home Im changing my name via deed poll to Stu ‘king of getting lost copyright 2012’ Wilson. Seriously, I am awesome at getting lost. But, today that was the plan.
We zoomed off intending to find the Gurkha museum. Home to the history of the legendary regiment it is where if you get a VC you go and have it displayed. Many Gurkhas are selected from the mountains around Pokhara and it is where selection takes place. Renowned for being one of the most difficult entrance tests in the world, of every 500 applicants just a single one succeeds. It is for Nepalis the ultimate dream, the pinnacle of what life offers for these men. I spoke about the Gurkha regiment last year and so will move on. After asking directions and realising Gurkha is actually pronounced ‘Gorkha’ we finally sussed it and found the museum.
It was a nice place, very informative and well worth a visit. I was chatting to some guy who was passionate as you can imagine, he was practically foaming at the mouth, in full Gurkha attire he lived and breathed the regiment. As we chatted I heard the kids laughing outside, We peered around the corner to see what was going on. “Look at the size of my willy dad” Charlie said sat at the rear of a cannon, him and Abi in stitches. I reminded him it was a canon from world war one and continued my discussion.
From the museum we headed North, I wished Id remembered the suncream as the sun burned every part of bare skin we had. After a few KM we picked up signs for ‘bat cave’ The Nepalese, like the Indians and the British (see the recurring theme) are 100% masters at being naff. Us British, we know that if we do something and it doesn’t spectacularly fail then its nothing short of a miracle. The only difference between us and the Nepalese is that we are actually shocked when something fails. The Nepalis love it, they know full well they will fail and they couldn’t care less. It’s the way life is and rather than get frustrated over details just embrace failure and smile. With that in mind, seeing a sign for ‘Bat cave’ I didn’t expect anything of any substance. A plastic bat, hung from a tree with 50NRS entrance fee plus 10NRS for a camera genuinely wouldn’t have surprised me. And so not expecting much we followed the signs through rural villages toward a mountain. After a while we saw the entrance sign.
The best thing to do in an instance like this is park outside someones shop, I say shop, I actually mean a three sided brick hut with a table selling stuff. You can be sure you’re bike will be safe, have somewhere to leave your helmets and all the shop owner expects in return is that when you buy a bottle of water after leaving the attraction you buy it from them. Its a good deal.
It was 20NRS entrance and then 50NRS for a torch. Torches are for those that call Scarborough their holiday, those who never stray from the path and so off we headed. It was a big mistake. But in an attempt to save face we descending into the blackness with just the light from my phone. Typically Nepal it was dangerous, but we endured it and thanks to other locals that had torches we got some glimpse of the massive cave we had descended into. Abi was petrified and with good reason, once in there is only one way out and its by climbing up a vertical rock face and then slipping through a cravass less than a meter wide. In England this would be illegal. In Nepal it’s fun. Charlie was in his element, we could barely see a thing, it was dripping water down on us and we were goodness knows how far underground. Supposedly there was bats but we couldn’t see in front of us, never mind the top of the cave. Being muscular it was a real squeeze for me through the tunnels. And when we finally reached where you escape the abyss it was blocked by a guy that didn’t have the balls to make the climb up and out. When he realised he had no choice he was gone, but it was a real effort for everyone involved, there was absolutely no way we could have (or most people) got out of that cave which really is a pot hole. People helped us every step of the way, from lifting the kids to holding their hands out to help me or having me stand on their bonce. It wasn’t just me, getting out was an effort that involved whoever was near you. Abi got really claustrophobic and took some calming down, she had to squeeze through the exit and I had visions of getting wedged in. It wasn’t a nice place to be but the rush of adrenaline was amazing. We all laughed and high five’d when we escaped, drip wet through from water and sweat, dirty from all the squeezing through things. Abi calmly said as we walked back to the bike “No more Caves dad” I laughed in agreement.
After an obligatory refreshment we headed off into the mountains. Not long after, I could see prayer flags flapping in the distance, it was a Tibetan settlement. Perched on the side of a canyon with the Himalayas on it’s porch it was a sight to behold. It was truly amazing, as though we had stepped into Tibet itself. Monks roamed the streets and incense filled the mountain air. It was as surreal as it was memorable. As we tried to find where we had parked I spotted something and seriously got excited. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I had found an Indian Jones rope bridge across the vast river! Within minutes we was on that bad boy, we spent ages trying to bounce it which really was a dumb idea since it was about 100 feet high above the river.
By now we were seriously burning, and so the next hour was spent trying to back track through a place where every mountain looks the same and every temple looks like the one you just passed.
There was a make shift police barrier that had been set up, the difference between Nepali police and the British police is that the Nepali are honest about things, they are looking for cash – Simple. Where as the British wrap it up in some law it all boils down to one thing – Money. I couldn’t be arsed with a bribe and so when we was gestured to stop, knowing full well I didn’t have the correct licence, just looked straight ahead and ignored them. The whistle blew and a few shouts were blasted out but they weren’t giving chase. Charlie called me a legend and we continued to find our hotel.
All in all it was the perfect end to Nepal. As we ate Chinese food I spoke with the guy serving it, he told me he is a top earner, earning $2 per day, it’s as good a life as he can ever expect. He explained that Nepal was in deep trouble because people can’t afford to have families, in his mind Nepal is excruciatingly expensive. In my mind its dirt cheap but what that means to him is that every where else on earth is way beyond what he could even dream. I think that’s one of the reasons I love Asia, people just manage. They get on with a life that has dealt them a struggle. I saw loads of people building something. What happens is that maybe 30 people will be employed to undertake absolute back breaking work. The top 10 workers, the ones deemed to have worked the hardest will get paid. The remainder will get a bowl of rice at the end of the day. Back tomorrow to try and be one of the top 10 who even then will be lucky to earn a dollar, which is less than a pound. Its absolute sadness from the outside looking in. But it has created a nation of people that will work their damnedest to earn money and so will break their backs in the pursuit of less than a quid.
Nepalis are amongst the most resilient people I have ever encountered. Proof that the human mind can over come the harshest of lives. One of the most determined populous I have ever come across the Nepalese are a credit to themselves and it has yet again been an absolute privilege to have shared their culture and lives with them. The old adage of “walk into a room and smile and the room will smile back” is no where more prevalent than here and never, ever has a smile hid so much pain and suffering. For when the Nepalese smile they do so with a genuine hope and belief that things will get better. I just hope they do.